Van Beek touts international experience
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – James Van Beek spent three and a half years helping set up and train new police forces in war torn cesspools like Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Van Beek is running for Eagle County sheriff, and here’s why that applies to this.
In Kosovo and Afghanistan, he dealt with operations, planning, analysis, logistics, budgets both big and small, projects and payrolls – up to 3,000 soldiers and police officers – working together with other agencies.
“In regions like Kosovo the police might not be the right people for a particular task, but they can put you in contact with the right people,” Van Beek said.
During the campaign he’s asked several times a day about all that international experience.
“We had to do more with less,” Van Beek said. “Yes, we have the best of everything in this country, and that includes law enforcement. But law enforcement comes down to customer service. The most vital component is an officer trained to take care of people.”
He says community policing is a core principle of a democratic society.
“The police are only as effective as the people will let them be,” he said. “You organize the structure so it supports the line officers and the people they’re out there to serve.”
When two or three people see the same thing from a different perspective, maybe we can sit down and learn what we have in common, instead of dwelling on how we’re different,” Van Beek said.
For example, several schools now operate along Highway 6, clogging the highway and roundabouts for several minutes a couple times a day. Parents complain about safety and traffic, only to be told there’s nothing to be done, Van Beek said.
Meanwhile, a half mile down the road is a deputy running radar and making traffic stops.
“Why doesn’t that officer get out of his vehicle and direct traffic, maybe smooth out the flow a little?” Van Beek asked. “People are being told the department doesn’t have the staff, but maybe we could facilitate a meeting. That way they wouldn’t feel like they’re being blown off.”
Van Beek is fluent in a few languages and was working the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail, speaking German and helping someone from a foreign security force. Someone overheard and started asking him questions, learning about his language skills and other training. They finally asked if he was interested in helping build and train police departments in Kosovo, the international hotspot at the time.
The world was changing, and he would change along with it.
“It was a challenge, both personally and professionally,” Van Beek said.
He spent 18 months in Kosovo, then returned to the Sheriff’s office working under A.J. Johnson for another 18 months.
Even while he was away, he was home. He’d roll in every few months for 28 days and spend much of it volunteering with local law enforcement agencies, especially the Sheriff’s office, he said.
He was done in 2005, too late to run for Sheriff in 2002 and too soon for 2006. He headed home to run security on Vail Mountain, getting a feel for the civilian side of security.
In the meantime, the calls kept coming, asking if he’d consider coming to Iraq and Afghanistan to help set up their police forces. They were offering great jobs and he took them. It meant going back on the road, living in war zones and wearing a flak jacket instead of a sports jacket, but his family gave him the green light.
“It was a family decision every time,” Van Beek said.
He has been visiting the valley since 1972 and moved here permanently in 1989 after he left the Army in 1987. His parents, Dutch immigrants, moved up in 1983.
His wife Carrie was raised in the valley. They met when he was investigating a case in Beaver Creek where she was working. They kept bumping into each other and decided to have lunch. Lunch led to a lifetime.
Van Beek served 12 years with the Sheriff’s office serving as a patrol officer, a field training officer and a detective. All kinds of things cross your path in those jobs, from crossing guard to cattle mutilations. Although no one ever figures out who mutilates cattle, it probably wasn’t aliens or a satanic cult, although even the coyotes and crows wouldn’t touch the carcass.
Now he’s running for sheriff.
Van Beek’s two young sons were campaigning with him in Eagle-Vail, working door-to-door from the bottom to the top.
His sons have become energetic campaigners. They’ll look you in the eye, give you a firm handshake, hand you a brochure and tell you why you should vote for their dad.
Not only did they work the elevation gain to the top of the peak, but to the top of every staircase in Eagle-Vail.
“My boys were asking me if I was tired yet,” Van Beek said. “I told them not until after Nov. 2.”